Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall CORN-ucopia--Putting Up the Bounty

Well, I feel terrible about how I have neglected my blog. But, hey, Charlie will only be little once! He recently turned 15 months old and is walking and into everything. Even so, I am beginning to have a glimmer more of free time, especially now that Harry is back in school for the fall, so I thought I would share with you one of my recent end-of-summer activities.

I used to joke that I was a Grandma before I became a Mom. That is because I love to make things from scratch, whether it be food or something handknit or sewn, or even soap. I like to cook, especially baking pies and cookies, and I love to "put things up."

To me, putting things up represents distilling the summer down to its essence and preserving it to savor in the winter when you feel cabin fever setting in. And it is so much more! There is the money savings, of course and the idea of the sustainability of buying local food in season--and there is also the incredible TASTE! If I have a choice between an insipid grocery store tomato in January, or my own homegrown tomatoes out of the freezer, there is seriously no contest.

There is no doubt that this represents work to most people. But I don't really see it that way. I think that for the most part it is fun to do this kind of stuff, unless one is pressed for time (which I seriously am these days, but I managed nonetheless). And over the years I have developed ways of putting things up that have become easy and familiar. I have made jam countless times, trying all different variations but we always come back to strawberry as our very favorite so nowadays I rarely make any other kind.

We used to go giddily picking (and eating) as many berries as we could manage in the morning and then make jam all afternoon, listening to the lids pop shut under the vacuum seals well into the evening and having our own jam for most of the next year. Sadly, the berry patch we went to closed a couple of years ago and we haven't managed to find another yet.

There have been many, many batches of apple-butter. Often made in the crock pot these days because its so much easier, even if it takes a lot longer. These days we make ours sugar-free with premium cinnamon from specialty spice-shops and it is a pure distillation of fall. I hope I get a chance to share that with you!

We have made our own salsa. I'll never forget how my hands burned for hours afterwards from chopping jalapenos. A rookie mistake. If we can salsa again, I will wear gloves when I chop the peppers and anything used to wipe the counter will go straight into the washer so it doesn't re-contaminate every surface with capsaicin over and over.

Sometimes I can things (preserving them in jars, safe at room temp--very specialized equiptment and procedures) and sometimes I freeze things. Depends on the food and what is best for it--or what I have time for. Recently I bought 5 dozen ears of corn and put it up in the freezer. And this is how I did it:

First there is the shucking. For the first 3 dozen (a farmer's dozen can often be as many as 14-15 ears of corn when the farmer is generous!), I had help. Mitch and Harry sat outside and spent an hour shucking, which I'm told was a very enjoyable experience for them. Harry didn't want to stop! The last two dozen I did separately myself when I found the time about a week later. Each dozen took me about an hour from shucking to freezer and clean-up. Here is a sink full of the corn husks, ready to head to the compost pile.

And here is the best equiptment I've found that will minimize the mess you might tend to make, if you are like me. A 9 x 13 baking dish with a small bar cutting board in the bottom and a sharp chefs knive--ours is the made-in-the-USA LamsonSharp, which has held up remarkably well lo these many years since I found Food Network and realized there was soooooo much more to cooking! This set-up contains most of the flying nibblets (wouldn't that make a great name for a band? The Flying Nibblets!) and also captures the corn starch.

Ever wondered about cream-style corn? Is there cream in creamed corn? Nope. Shouldn't be. The secret to creamed corn is corn starch. I discovered this all on my own and then verified it later. You slice the corn off of the cob--that is pretty straighforward, of course (just make sure you don't cut too deep and get the gnarly bits where the corn actually attatches to the cob).

But when you take it to the next step, that is where doing it yourself really pays off. After you hack off the nibblets, you can see that there are decapitated corny units there oozing with sweet corny goodness. If you were eating the corn straight from the cob, you would be scraping those out with your teeth. But since you are trying to save that flavor for later in the year, you slice off the nibblets, then turn the knive OVER and use the back of the knive to scrape down the cob, a process I hearby coin "milking the cob" since what comes out is milky, starchy stuff that thickens when its cooked and tastes awesome--homemade creamed corn, ya'all! You won't find that in a bag in frozen foods at the grocery store!

Here are some cut and milked cobs. Looks the same as if folks had eaten them straight off the cob, no?

Here is a shot of the corn after I'm done with the knife. You can see the liquid starch at the bottom and the mound of starchy stuff scraped off the cob.

Here it is bagged up and ready for the freezer. One dozen ears fills a gallon freezer bag about half full. Then I spread it out and lay it flat to make it freeze faster and more uniformly (even distribution of niblets and starch) and to facilitate breaking it up into chunks later.

When I'm ready to serve it, I bang the package against the counter and break off some chunks. Plop them in a saucepan with a teeny amount of water to prevent burning and turn the saucepan on low, going back occasionally to break up the bits. Once it comes to a boil and thickens, its done. You could also use the microwave, I suppose. I don't do much cooking in the micro, mainly reheating.

Other corny fun facts: When Mitch was in China a few years ago, the locals were drinking a bevarage they called corn milk, or something like that. Mitch tasted it and said it was surprisingly good. Like liquid. . . corn. I guess Americans don't corner the market on turning veggies into weird desserty things like pumpkin pie and carrot cake. Although corn is technically a grain, I suppose.

One more fun corn story. I used to work at a local, family owned greenhouse. I managed the store and in the spring we would sell bulk seeds for home gardeners including many varieties of sweet corn. There was an older gentleman that came in one day and decided he would test my knowlege of sweet corn. He asked me what the three best varieties of sweet corn were. I replied that that was certainly subjective and that I didn't have direct experience since I had a small home garden myself and no room for a large corn plot. He decided to educate me and told me his three favorites.

Then, every time he came in, which was weekly, he would quiz me. After a few weeks of this it was getting to be pretty funny and I was feeling a little saucy and greeted him with, "Hey, Bodacious!" (which was one of the three variety names.) I learned later that his wife was with him, a rarity, and she thought it was hilarious. From that time on, this gentleman came in asking for Sugar Buns (another one of his favorite varieties of sweet corn). It is my understanding that he still asks about me (referring to me as Sugar Buns) to this day, even though I left there to have Harry almost 7 years ago!
So, try it yourself, if you can. The sweet corns they have now are outrageously sweet. The corn I used here was a bicolor corn, but I'm not sure of the variety name. I'll call it just plain GOOD!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Catching up on FO's

Well, I figure I ought to catch up on blogging some of the things I have finished lately. There are more, but I will get to them another time, when the baby is taking a longer nap. He is just learning to crawl and is so excited about it that he thinks sleeping is for the birds.

I just finished this pair of socks last Sunday. I saw them in the Knit Picks catalog and loved the color ways and the stripes and the ribbing. So, I had to make them myself. Frugal to the core (tee hee), I decided to wing the pattern since it didn't look like much more than ribbing and skipped buying a whole book for one pattern. After making them, I enjoyed knitting with the Knit Picks yarn (very soft and smooth--extraordinary quality for the price!) so much that I decided to buy another ball of each colorway and use up my leftovers with the new ball to make another pair of socks in each individual colorway. The purple pair is well underway--I'm just waiting now for the box to arrive with the rest of the yarn. Doot dee doo.

I am usually pretty monogamous to my projects but I may have to start something else this weekend. I already turned the heel in a complementary color to make the yarn stretch and to hopefully make it to package arrival time. It is 3:30 on Friday and it doesn't look like that is going to happen! I have been thinking of starting a garter mesh placket tee from a magazine pattern. Maybe now is the time to start it.

Yarn: Knit Picks 'Felici' in Tyrian Purple and Aquarium
Needles: size 1.5 us double points
Gauge: 8.8 sts/in
My own generic sock pattern
inspired by the Knit Picks catelogue

I prefer top-down construction with slip stich heel. I don't normally like to rib a whole sock because I just don't like knitting ribbing, but I do like the way it looks in stripes with the purl blips (the opposite of what most people think, I suppose) and I also like the way it fits--I have large feet and am accustomed to snug socks--because it is generally difficult to find mass manufactured socks that are large enough. Size 11 shoe, ok? Geez.

I know there are a lot of yarn snobs out there who turn up their noses at Knit Picks. I am not one of them. I admire Kelly Petkun and her team for trying something new in the yarn world. A lot of other companies have tried to copy them but haven't succeeded nearly as well, in my opinion. I like expensive yarns as much as the next knitter, but am also very satisfied when I find a good value.

Which the next project was NOT. Oh, these gloves turned out beautifully. But they didn't start out as gloves! I kept hearing about Crystal Palace Mini Mochi yarn and decided I should splurge and give it a try. I got it and knit the first SOCK and was so happy with it that I wore the single sock around the house for the rest of the day while I started the second sock. Well, that sock ended up mixed into the wash. Oh bother. You know the rest. It is supposed to be machine washable wool. Apparantly (yes, I've said it before) that does NOT mean machine dryable. They came out of the dryer felted. Ugh.

Now what? Second sock already has several inches on it--but there probably isn't enough in the two skeins to make two more socks! And, I thought, I need to make something that doesn't get thrown in the wash with wild abandon. Gloves, I thought, are the solution. I just added 4 stitches where I was and then started in on the pattern for gloves from the book Not Just Socks. And I really dig how they turned out! I love how the fingers are each a different color. After I finished the first glove, I weighed it and the remaining yarn--and had a pile of yarn weighing two grams more than the glove, whew!

Pattern: Gloves from Not Just Socks

Yarn: Mini Mochi "Intense" from Crystal Palace

Size 2 dpns

They are rather long, due to the fact that they started as socks. I like that. It will keep the cold from going up my arm next winter. It was fun to try them on as I went and make each individual finger the right length. As you can imagine, I also have large hands and typical women's gloves come up a bit short and are uncomfortable. This was the first time I tried knitting gloves, though I have made a lot of mittens for other people. At times knitting the fingers on double points was a pain, but I'll be trying it again sometime. Especially if I can find some short glove needles.

FYI. I don't know html. Blogger is a pain in the behind with paragraph breaks. I'm trying to learn how to manage the html to make my blog as readable as possible. Bear with me as I figure this out.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Best Cookies Ever!

I'm allergic to dairy (cows milk) and soy, so eating prepared food is pretty much out of the question. This has forced me to become a good cook and food scientist as I seek out and refine ways to make the foods I crave in a manner that won't make me ill. From time to time I may share these recipes with you, since I doubt I am the only person looking for these culinary answers.

I discovered my allergy when I was 27 after sufferering from some odd and seemingly unrelated symptoms for about 10 years, but I'll leave that story for another day. So, its been almost a decade of the challenge of cooking dairy and soy free and I think I have come up with some good recipes in the meantime.

Case in point. My recipe for:

Everything From Chips to Nuts Cookies

1/2 cup smart balance light margerine
1/2 cup spectrum organic all vegetalbe shortening (palm shortening)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup almond meal (or flax meal if you prefer)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp real maple extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup raw macadamia nuts, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Cream margerine, shortening and sugars, then add eggs, maple flavor, salt and baking powder. Toss in the flour, oats, almond meal, coconut, nuts and choco chips and mix well. Bake heaping tablespoons of dough on parchment covered baking sheets for 13-15 minutes. Great warm from the oven while the chocolate is still gooey and for as long as they last.

These are crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, packed with nuts and buttery, warm flavors. YES, I said buttery! Actually, the smart balance tastes more buttery than I remember butter tasting, though it has been a long time. And that, along with the brown sugar, maple extract, coconut, salt and almond meal converge to bring warm, caramel notes that could only be described as buttery.

The macadamia nuts are a bit over the top. They are expensive, but they add such a satisfying crunch to the cookie. The pecans play a background roll here, but could win the oscar for supporting actor. Kosher salt is awesome in cookies--the larger flakes make little pockets of salt that your mouth seems to discover and savor--so sophisticated! And why almond meal? Good question. There are several reasons. It adds to the nutty character of the cookie, it gives richness to baked goods when you use it to replace some flour, it adds nutrition (almonds are a powerhouse of nutrition) and it also helps (along with the oats, coconut and other nuts--think fiber, protein, fat) to lower the glycemic index of the cookie. That means that you won't feel quite so much of a sugar rush and then sugar crash after eating a few. I hate sugar hangovers!

These are big cookies with big flavor. They are rocky and dense and a terrible temptation. Should you be lucky enough to NOT be allergic to milk or soy, you could easily use the recipe using conventional fats and I beleive they would be just as good as mine. I can easily say though, that after a lifetime of baking chocolate chip cookies, and most of that time baking with butter, that these are the best cookies I have ever made, bar none.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A good use of a college degree. . .

Pattern: "Swifty" from Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines
by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne
Yarn: Lilly Sugar and Cream
Needles: Size 7 Addi Turbos
I really don't know why. I just had to try this pattern in the new Mason-Dixon book. It just seemed so cheerful and useful and fun that I just couldn't help myself. I had a cone of Lilly Sugar and cream in white in the stash and I happened across the pink and green when browsing thru JoAnn's recently on a button-finding mission. It took about two days on and off to make.
So, after I took these lovely pics, I gave it a test drive. My verdict? It doesn't glide like the swiffer pads, but I can put MY choice of non-toxic cleaners on it--or just hot water will do in most cases. I heard a rumor that the swiffer pads contain chemicals that are bad for children and pets and I don't really like being forced to buy their products if I don't want to. This is a very viable alternative, if you like the simplicity of a swiffer vs. the traditional mop.
Personally, I hate mopping but really should do it more often than I do now--my 8-month-old will be crawling soon and there are two dogs, a cat and three other people living in the house. Things just get messy in no time at all. I can see this being used a couple of times a week and just tossed in with the next load of towels. Tres green! Which I love! And did I mention, its cheerful? Though less so, once it is covered in grunge!
I really should make another one to use when the first one is dirty. I had so much fun making this that I'm considering using the leftovers to make some dishcloths, something I wouldn't have considered before, but sounds like fun now. I might just start mopping more than once every few weeks (yikes, did I just admit to that!!!!!--I do vaccuum all areas almost every day!)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finished Objects!

After reading knitting blogs for years, it seems so exciting to say for myself--I have FO pictures to share!

Pattern: My own generic top down hat, improvised, but loosely based on/inspired by Thorpe by Kirsten Kapur (ravelry)
Yarn: An unknown dk weight superwash in off-white and a Louet fingering weight superwash soft green held together to make approximately Aran weight. Both were scraps from the stash.
Needles: Size 7 US bamboo double points
Started and Finished: over two days sometime in Dec 08.

I didn't care for the crochet border in a contrast color, so I left that out. To me, it looked sloppy just because that is how crocheting into knitting looks to me. I thought it looked cleaner without. I also did short i-cord ties instead of the braided ties they used on Thorpe. Knitting top down made it possible to leave stitches live for the ear flaps and then I just transitioned into i-cord when I got down to three stitches.

I almost always put ear flaps on hats. I love the way they look and they are so toasty warm. Usually I figure around 40% of the stitches are for the front of the face and then I divide the remaining stitches roughly into thirds--1/3 for each ear flap and 1/3 for the back (or a little more depending on how it looks to me).

I've developed my own techniques for ear flaps on fair isle or other hats with hems. I don't usually do ribbing on hats. Usually when I make the hem, I use waste yarn on the ear flap stitches on the turning row then I have two rows of stitches to pick up to make the ear flap double thick--makes it warmer and keeps it from curling. Looks very neat and tidy too. I'll try to take some pictures of my son's snowflake hat to show soon.

Interestingly, I was fairly certain both yarns were superwash. That they may have been, but probably not super-dry. They got tossed into the laundry with all of the other baby things* and the hat came out significantly smaller and denser. This necessitated making a second hat which I did just a few days ago. No pattern was used for that one either, I just winged it, comparing notes with the first one. I made the second one larger with wider and longer earflaps. He doesn't like wearing it either, but it is always handy for that quick trip in and out of a store or something. His little bald head needs something during even those quick excursions.

*Note to those knitting for babies. If even this hard-core, wool-adoring knitter can make such a mistake--so will the families you are knitting for!

Pattern: Tomten Jacket by Elizabeth Zimmerman (ravelry)

From: Knitting Without Tears/ The Opinionated Knitter

Yarn: 100% Wool--worsted scraps leftover from other projects for him, mostly cascade 220, but some brown sheep, some elann worsted and some knit picks worsted.

Needles: Size 7 addi turbos

Started and Finished: About three weeks, Fall 08

Harry said he wanted a warm sweater and I had been dying to make the tomten for some time. I was trying to be thrifty because at the time we were paying two mortgages and he said he wanted it to be blue and red and I just looked at the huge pile of blue and red scrap yarn and thought to myself, I might just be able to make this work!

I remembered reading--I think in Sally Melville's the Knit Stitch--about using three colors for stripes and how at the end of each row the next color would be waiting for you there. So, I divided the reds and blues into piles of light, medium and dark and started the pattern which I made a bit larger because my son is 5. I just followed the math proportions that she used, but started with more stitches. I originally wanted to do a hood, but there just wasn't enough red yarn left for that. Then I finished it up with applied i-cord all the way around--to which I sewed a red zipper that Harry picked out with me.

The whole time I was knitting I just wasn't sure if I liked it, but I kept going anyway. Once it was done and he tried it on and I wasn't looking at it from 12 inches away, but several feet away, I loved it! The single color striping is vibrant and very striking. It looks corrugated or something. He leaves this sweater lying around all the time and I don't mind because just the sight of it makes my heart sing. I'm so proud of this sweater. It is one of the best things I've ever knitted. And it fits him perfectly. Hopefully it will fit this spring as well. Then, little brother will inherit it and I'll get to use it again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

And thus I begin. . .

A blog. About stuff. My knitting, my life. Whatever I'm thinking about, I guess.

I just have to say all the really clever blog names I could think of were already taken! Here are just a few of the names I brainstormed:



From Soup to Knits


Split Stitches

Spit Splice


Make One

Thru the Back Loop

Slipped Stitches

Taken, taken and ummmmmmmmmm, taken. At first I just googled the names I liked to see if blogs came up, which eliminated quite a few of my good ideas very quickly. I had high hopes for Grafted and Spit Splice and Tink when nothing showed up in google. Blogger, however, would not allow it. Someone else must have gotten there first whether they have an active blog or not, I suppose. Darning in Ends is pretty good too. Sounds relaxed, well-rounded, like I have things well-in-hand. I was hoping for something edgier. But maybe I'm not really all that edgie after all.

Ironically, I rarely darn in many ends. My preference is to spit splice wherever possible or to weave in ends as I go. These techniques are more fun, more clever and less drudgery. And that, is how I have always liked to do things. The more clever way. Not trying to look smart or be a fancy pants. Just like learning new things and trying different ways to see what suits me best.

So, there is is. My first ever blog post. Begun. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Or, actually, I'd call it a minor whine.